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The Diversity and Beauty of Loft Buildings South of Union Square

The area South of Union Square, where Greenwich Village meets the East Village, is a dynamic blend of history, commerce, and culture. It’s where great leaps forward in social movements, literature, music, and industry took place, reflected in its diverse array of 19th- and early 20th-century architectural styles.

Notably, the loft building emerged as a distinctive feature of the area, flourishing in response to the city’s growing commercial prosperity. These commercial buildings ascended to greater and greater heights in the 19th century, evolving from three-story Federal-style brick houses to eight-story buildings made of stone and cast iron in the late 19th century. The loft buildings South of Union Square during this period were among the grandest and most significant in New York, and showcased intricate and innovative architectural detailing. For example, in reference to the block of East 12th Street between University Place and Broadway, the AIA Guide to New York City characterized the buildings as a fusion of “Beaux Arts meets 1890s High-Tech,” emphasizing the imaginative ornamentation and rich brickwork. Over the course of many generations, these resilient and adaptable buildings had new lives breathed into them, finding new purpose as artists’ studios and residences.

These buildings are highlighted in our new virtual exhibition, “The Architecture South of Union Square” by Dylan Chandler, which highlights the remarkable concentration of history, culture, and architectural beauty in the blocks of Greenwich Village and the East Village below Union Square. See all the “Architecture of South of Union Square” photos here.

42 East 12th Street

42 East 12th Street

Cleverdon & Putzel designed this seven-story Romanesque Revival loft building in 1894. Its bays feature intact cast iron. In the late 19th century, the building served as a boarding house run by United Hebrew Charities. In the 1970s, it was home to the Film & Dance Theater, as well as the radical Workers Laboratory Theatre.

74-76 and 78 Fifth Avenue

(l. to r.) 74-76 and 78 Fifth Avenue

No. 74-76 Fifth Avenue is a 12-story loft building designed in 1910 by Maynicke & Franke for Henry Corn with secessionist-style motifs; it housed a noted venue for film showings, lectures, and other gatherings related to left-wing causes, attracting the likes of not only Paul Robeson but also FBI and House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigations. No. 78 Fifth Avenue is a 10-story Neo-Renaissance–style loft building constructed in 1896 by architect Albert Wagner for Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale, Bloomingdale’s Department Store founders, to serve as their corporate offices. The building also housed the offices of civil engineering consulting firm Purdy & Henderson, which employed some of the first female civil engineers in the country, and which was responsible for such notable NYC landmarks as the Flatiron Building and 40 Wall Street.

64-66 Fifth Avenue

64-66 Fifth Avenue is an eight-story commercial loft building constructed in three stages — in 1892 by architect R.H. Robertson, with additions in 1907 and 1915. It was the first American headquarters of prestigious publishers Macmillan Co. It later housed Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, the first art cinema house in America, and the first studio of “Picasso of Dance” Martha Graham.

808 Broadway

This striking six-story loft building, which runs the entire block from Broadway to Fourth Avenue north of Grace Church, was designed in 1887 by James Renwick, noted architect of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Grace Church, along with partners James Lawrence Aspinwall and William Hamilton Russell. The design of the manufacturing building was meant to harmonize with the adjacent historic Grace Church. The building was home to notable publishers connected to the likes of Norman Rockwell, and to clothing manufacturers. It was the scene of significant labor disputes, and played a pivotal role in Caleb Carr’s mystery novel The Alienist.

827-831 Broadway

This pair of 1866 cast-iron loft buildings hold an extraordinary place in the history of modern art, having served as the homes and studios of great art world figures include Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jules Olitsky, Paul Jenkins, Larry Poons, Herbert Ferber, and William S. Rubin. The buildings were slated for demolition in 2016 when Village Preservation waged a successful campaign to have them landmarked and protected.

Explore all the buildings in Dylan Chandler’s “The Architecture South of Union Square” here. Explore more about the history of the area South of Union Square here and support landmark designation to protect the area here.

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